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Uptown Developer Talks Compromise on Affordable Housing Issue

By Adeshina Emmanuel | February 15, 2013 7:10am | Updated on February 15, 2013 3:27pm

UPTOWN — A developer who hopes to build a $220 million project with luxury residential units in Uptown hinted that affordable housing activists shouldn't hold their breath expecting him to offer 20 percent of the units in his project at a discount.

But he is willing to compromise, he told DNAinfo.com Chicago.

Since his first pitch at a public meeting in November, JDL Development President James Letchinger has shown Uptown several different versions of his proposal for glass towers in a Tax Increment Financing district by the lake.

Letchinger's plan for the Montrose/Clarendon TIF district faces mounting opposition from affordable housing advocates, including activist group Organization of the Northeast, a member of the 46th Ward Zoning and Development Committee.

ONE argues that the plan to build 856 luxury rental units at Montrose and Clarendon needs more affordable options.

The zoning committee reviewed the latest version of the project on Jan. 28, and will have at least one more meeting, on Feb. 25, before taking an advisory vote on the project.

Letchinger has not committed to a specific number of below-market-rate units in the development, but said it will likely fall "between 5 and 10 percent."

"It's definitely not going to get to 20 percent," like ONE wants, he said, emphasizing "the affordable [housing] people aren't going to drive the zoning committee decision.

"We're going to create a compromise," he said.

JDL might require $26 million-$32 million in TIF assistance for the project, he said.

Chicago ordinances require that 20 percent of the rental units be dedicated to affordable housing in a residential project requesting TIF assistance  — unless developers pay the city $100,000 per affordable unit not built.

The city defines rent as affordable when a household earning 60 percent of the area median income can reasonably pay it. Sixty percent of the Chicago area's median income is $44,160 annually for a household of four and $30,960 a year for a one-person household, according to the city.

Letchinger has said rents for the buildings have not been set, and he is still in discussions with the city about exactly how much affordable units would cost. In the past he has said "affordable" one-bedroom units could rent for $1,200, with other one-bedroom units in the area of $1,700 to $1,800.

ONE activist and Uptown resident Midori Bowen said "we shouldn't be pushing for 5 percent or 10 percent, we should be pushing for 20 percent."

"Affordable housing is really needed in Uptown despite the perspective the developers are getting," the 23-year-old English tutor at Truman College said.

Those perspectives are biased in favor of property owners and "don't represent all of the Uptown community," Bowen said.

Letchinger has told DNAinfo.com Chicago several times that the general sentiment from the community members with whom he has spoken is that there is "too much" affordable and low-income housing in Uptown.

Alyssa Berman-Cutler, president of economic development organization Uptown United, said "There is certainly that view."

But while a developer investing this much money into the changing neighborhood is a blessing, "Now is the time to make sure that we are preserving diversity," which makes the issue a balancing act, she said.

Berman-Cutler, also a zoning committee representative, said her organization does not have  "an official position yet," but "we are preliminarily supporting" the project.

And when it comes to affordable housing in the development, she said she would like to see "at least 10 percent of the units" set aside for this purpose.

Letchinger’s goal is to break ground by the end of the year, assuming he wins community support and clears the typical bureaucratic hurdles with the city related to zoning, building permits and other requirements.